19 December 2014
Lebbeus Woods in Cuba, Fined by USG
Lebbeus Woods right, Deborah Natsios, center.
Architect, was fined thousands of dollars by the USG for visiting, lecturing
and designing in Cuba by invitation, the only member of a party singled out
for punishment. Refusing to pay, the USG confiscated his financial
assets. With US re-establishment of relations with Cuba, the fine should
be returned to Woods' widow, Aleksandra, and daughter, Victoria. (Woods died
October 30, 2012.)
E-Mail sent on 28th May 2001 from John Young
Lebbeus Woods suffered a heart attack two days ago, underwent a single bypass
operation, and is recovering well at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan. Not
yet receiving visitors.
Lebbeus has been teaching at PSU School of Architecture and the last I heard
running from the US Government revenuers who seek payment of fine levied
on Leb for going to Cuba when that was stupidly illegal. Leb was the only
member of a large party of invited scholars and architects who was singled
out for political punishment.
What I admire in Leb is his ability to use his architecture for political
action when few are doing that or even consider such career-damaging
unprofessional design. To be sure, few of us have his genius to make it seem
so easy to ridicule in sublime drawings the fatuity of Muschamp's beloved
world class archtecture, and worse, those epicene campaigns to save world
monuments while ignoring political monstrosities who underwrite "world" views.
These are lonely times for Lebbeus Woods.
In the early 1990s this irreverent New York architect produced a series of
dark and moody renderings that made him a cult figure among students and
academics. Foreboding images of bombed-out cities populated by strange, parasitic
structures, they seemed to portray a world in a perpetual state of war, one
in which the architects task was to create safe houses for societys
Since then Mr. Woods has become his own kind of outcast.
Architecture is big business today. While most of his friends and colleagues
have abandoned their imaginary cities to chase lucrative commissions, Mr.
Woods has shown little interest in building. Instead he continues to work
at a small drafting table in a corner of his downtown apartment, a solitary,
monklike figure churning out increasingly abstract architectural fantasies,
several of which are on view in the Dreamland show at the Museum
of Modern Art.
The Cosmic Beauty of Lebbeus Woods Airplane Parts
September 15, 2014
Airplane Parts (1992-93), Lebbeus Woods
Havana. At Christmas of 1994, it was still the fabled outpost of revolution.
Granted, the revolution was tired, and more than a little threadbare. Political
ideology and alliances with the Eastern Bloc had ruined the economy, with
the help of an American economic embargo that had been in place since, in
1961, Cuba had been declared by Fidel Castro a Communist state and ally of
the USSR. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963 was the closest the Cold War ever
got to getting hot, and Castro's loyalty to Marxist-Leninist principles remained
ever since a thorn in the side of the Monroe Doctrine.
By the time we arrived--a group of architects invited by Peter Noever and
the MAK in Vienna1--the city was largely dark at night from lack of electricity,
basic goods were scarce, and parts of the city were in serious decay from
lack of care. This was particularly true of La Habana Vieja, the Old Havana--the
Spanish colonial city at the entrance to Havana's large, deep harbor on the
sea. Home to poor black and Latino Cubans who could not afford to live elsewhere
in the once-prosperous city of many landmark Modernist houses, this quarter's
inhabitants lived amid ruins of 18th and 19th century buildings, and lacked
the resources to repair or maintain them. In the finest local restaurants,
the unpretentious fare consisted of pork and chicken dishes--no seafood.
Fishing boats could not harvest the sea's bounty, because they were confined
to port, having become a too-convenient vehicle of escape from this Communist
paradise. The official currency was the Peso, but everything was reckoned
in U.S. Dollars, for example on the meters of the taxis. In the countryside,
oxen had begun replacing tractors for farming, for want of oil and gasoline--Cuba
produces none of its own and the U.S. embargo severely limited imports. People
in the Old Havana remained phlegmatic, as the poor anywhere often do. Through
camera- and purse-grabbing from tourists was common, violence was rare. The
streets were calm, the pace easy, the atmosphere congenial.
In any event, we were a cloistered group, traveling for the most part together
around the city, following a highly structured schedule. Our mission, financed
by the MAK, was to meet with architects and planners in Havana to discuss
the future of the city, which we did, both privately and in a public event.
We intentionally avoided meeting government officials, as we were not there
to endorse in any way the regime. Also, we were asked by Peter to sketch
out some proposals of projects we conceived for the Old City, as a way of
enlivening our discussions. All of us believed that Havana should be built
in the future by Cuban architects, and not culturally leveled by an influx
of buildings designed by international architects, as was, and is, the case
in so many cities around the world. Of course, we hoped that Cuba's decades
old, repressive politics had not destroyed the independent imaginations of
its architects. Visiting the sites of projects begun just before the Revolution,
most of which remain unfinished today, we were struck by the fact that a
highly original Cuban Modernist architecture has flourished here. In contrast,
visiting the sites of apartment buildings pre-fabricated in East Germany
that were imported here after the Revolution, as well as our Communist-bloc
knock-offs, we were struck by the fact that the Revolution has smothered
architectural creativity for decades. We hoped our visit, and our engagement
with Havana and its architects could stimulate, or in some way nudge or help
liberate creative forces latent or already at work beneath the surface. It
had the whiff of 'Yankee' arrogance, we were aware, but our posture was relaxed,
open, even playful, and not imposing.
Peter had the idea that we should create a manifesto while we were in Havana.
I was sympathetic and brought some 'notes' that could be incorporated in
our group manifesto, should it come to pass. Of course, it did not, and could
not. Mostly we were seeing things from different angles of view, and arguing
about what was important for Havana's future. There was no chance of a group
statement, let alone a manifesto. In retrospect, it was inevitable--we did
not represent any sort of movement or common way of thinking about anything,
though we had much in common in our approach to architecture, which is the
reason we were invited. On the other hand, our lack of at least a position
paper left the impression of an individualist approach that would only feed
the global tendency for architectural commodification: the future of the
city is to be a collection of unique objects, designed by highly individualistic,
probably internationally renowned, architects. Certainly this is the pattern
that has been applied in many cities today. One problem with it is that it
does not address, much less engage, the more urgent problems of the fabric
of cities, the ordinary architectural infill that spans between the unique
objects. Part of this fabric is, of course, the ever-expanding slums of the
destitute, and the near-slums of the working poor. Part of is also the
middle-class ghettoes of shopping malls, condominiums, and office spaces,
with their mind-numbing conformity to common denominators.
I wish that we had been able to create some principled statement about Havana,
as it was standing on the threshold of post-Castro, post-Communist development,
as it was facing what is certain to be a surge of new, omnivorous capitalist
development. But we could not, as a group, do it. The day we met to hammer
out a statement/manifesto, we descended into evasions, jokes, derision. Wolf
thought the lyrics of Dylan's Desolation Row comprised the best possible
manifesto. I--feeling as he did the hopelessness of the situation between
us--fell in with him: They're selling postcards to the hanging/ they're painting
the passports brown/ the beauty parlor is filled with sailors/ the circus
is in town
1 Thom Mayne, Wolf Prix, Eric Owen Moss, Carme Pinos, Carl Pruscha, Peter
Noever, and myself. See The Havana Project, Prestel Verlag, 1996.
STATEMENTS FROM A MANIFESTO
20 January 1995
From each according to ability. To each according to need.
What is needed is not the revolution's "New Man," but a new conception of
space for the person who already exists.
There is nothing for architecture to express anymore, but only the expressive
modes of its actions.
There must be more walls, more separations that at the same time bring things
closer together. This is precisely architecture's domain.
Decay is reformation without desire. Reformation without decay is desire's
Individuality is attained only within community. Without community, there
is only isolation.
All cities are neighborhoods of one city. What is good or bad for one is
good or bad for all.
Intervention? For good reason it is a duty, not a right. We are all travelers
today, strangers away from home, from any place of origin. Home is today
a concept of movement, and origin is only in the mind.
We are originals, all of us who live today, within today. We are our own
origin, our own point of beginning.
Architecture must be original, too. It must always begin again
Architecture must always be a struggle against--always against--its creators.
Only in this way can it affirm the necessity to create.
There can be no more types or stereotypes. Nothing that is alive can be typical.
For architecture this means the abolition of typologies, and the direct
institution of actions.
The architecture most needed today is the architecture of crisis. This is
what is meant by the term "critical architecture."
Architecture does not solve problems. Its distinction, if any, lies in the
quality of problems it creates.
The revolution never created an architecture. Now it is architecture's
to create a revolution.
LA HABANA VIEJA: WALLS
A new urban wall is proposed along the line of the Spanish colonial city
wall, in order to concentrate the energies in La Habana Vieja, intensifying
at the same time the processes of decay and new growth. Other walls--called
'urban batteries'--contain energy cells and water purification units that
can be tapped by adjacent dwellings. Structurally, they support new, spontaneous
constructions that are made in the gaps opened up by the demolition of old
buildings in the existing cityscape. Their use is not determined in advance
but only in the idiosyncratic and always changing ways they are inhabited.
As a provocation and an armature for change, the walls do not simply separate
spaces, but sponsor new and experimental forms of building and living.
EL MALECON DE LA HABANA: TERRACE
Design for a new, continuous terrace along the entire six kilometers of the
Malecon, the wide boulevard along the Carribean. The terrace, cantilevered
over the sea, serves as a public terrace during good weather. During hurricanes,
the force of the tide tilts the terrace up to form a seawall against potentially
damaging flood tides.
Because of its vibrant culture and volatile political history, Havana is
an ideal site for the establishment of an institute for the study of the
idea and practice of institutions. The aim of such a metainstitute is to
devise principles, practices and rules by which institutions (social, political,
cultural) can revise and reform themselves. The metainstitute proposed for
Havana (explored in three variations) is devoted to the analysis and invention
of both stable and fluid urban terrains, the ambiguous, paradoxical, and
unpredictable landscapes of the contemporary city that embody forces of change.